Some symposium re-caps, especially those of a notable Keynote Speaker are timeless in the valuable messages they contain and like a fine wine perhaps are even best savored at a later time. Life’s lessons, potentially profound ideas once digested serve to offer a certain spirit of inspiration or guidance and this is the dish shared with famed cooking personality, Nathalie Dupree. Honesty and Sage Advice combining humor with entertaining stories in the recipe of life were delivered by Dupree to a standing room only crowd presenting as Keynote Speaker at the annual Philadelphia Le Dames d’ Escoffier event Cuisine, Culture & Community, A Global Celebration of Women and Food at the Restaurant School Walnut Hill in early May.
Credited for putting Southern Cooking on the map of national attention Dupree is also attributed for her influence in expanding the concept of Southern Style Cooking among many restaurants throughout the south including the flourish of Atlanta as a food destination. Dupree, the first woman to film more than a hundred television Cooking Shows for PBS since Julia Child was first introduced to Child following her graduation ceremony at Le Cordon Bleu in London where Dupree received an Advanced Certificate during the time she lived in London with her first husband. Members of Le Cordon Bleu were eager to introduce the two women together being the only Americans in attendance. Dupree now chuckles to think she did not even know who Julia Child was at the time.
Later, Dupree again ran into Julia Child and seized the moment inquiring the same line that many women throughout the country would come to ask Nathalie Dupree repeatedly in years to come, “What should I do with the rest of my life.” Julia Child’s response: “Teach cooking. Open a cooking school. We need cooking schools in America” and Dupree did. Directing Rich’s Cooking School through a Department Store in Atlanta, Nathalie proceeded to instruct upwards of ten thousand students over a ten year period, including many who then went on to open restaurants, catering, or specialty food businesses.
Dupree’s first stint out of Le Cordon Blue in London landed Nathalie a Chef spot in Majorca, Spain and in describing this experience to the Philadelphia audience Nathalie can barely contain her laughter on the absurdity prior to her arrival never having even been in a restaurant kitchen. There was far more to this experience than the hilarity of only having thrown one pan of potatoes at the Maître De during her tenure. Being a rather free spirit with an open heart, Nathalie shares, “I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know” it was quite a lesson. Now, years later one of Dupree’s top messages of inspiration to women is, “Know what you know, Know what you don’t know, don’t be afraid, just know that you need to figure it out.”
Arriving on the culinary scene at a time few women were in the industry (it took Dupree years to finally befriend another woman along similar genre lines, she was from Belgium) or, as Dupree puts it, “wasn’t flinging hash.” Helping other women in the industry became an important focus to Dupree, and yes, the joint was jumpin with intermittent cheers, applause, and a camaraderie of laughter as Nathalie declared the crowd one of her most renowned lines fundamental along the journey of life insisting,“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”
Nathalie Dupree’s inspiration for being a chef came to her as a sophomore in college much to the initial disappointment of her mother who, upon working so hard to raise her children as a single mother had greater hopes following university that Nathalie would become in the Southern sense, a true lady, and working in a kitchen was not it. Nevertheless, she supported Nathalie in her interests and pursuits, given a few conditions that is, and though unfulfilled still landed her daughter much success and notoriety in future years. With a sparkle in her eye, Nathalie recalls the initial dish inciting the magic within, would you believe, Tuna a la King? Through this dish however, while taking over one time for a sick cook, then lacking an understanding on the correct processes involved in multiplying food turned out less than stellar results, later remedied. Still, having experienced so much fun in the process Dupree just knew working in food and sharing food with others was something that truly made her happy and it was what she wanted to do with her life.